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Jenna Gines divided Facebook with her passionate post about difference and disability.
As a child, you were probably taught that it’s not polite to stare, but this US mum begs to differ.
A mother to three children under four, Jenna has a son with a congenital condition who uses a wheelchair. Last week, she took to Facebook with a poignant and important message: don’t ignore differences; embrace them.
‘Please stop teaching your children not to stare!’ she wrote.
‘What are we teaching them when we say that? Don’t look at someone that is different than you. Don’t be curious or want to learn about something you’ve never seen before. Stay away from things that are different.
‘Instead,’ she implored, ‘let them stare. Let them ask questions, talk about it. What is it that they see? What is it that they’re curious about? What is different? What is the same?
‘If it’s someone using a wheelchair, say hi. If it’s someone that looks or acts different, say hi. If it’s someone of short stature, say hi.
‘Teach your child about differences,’ she continued. ‘It’s okay to be different. It’s okay to notice it & to talk about it. It’s even better to make a new friend. It’s not okay to ignore, look away, or act like a person who is different isn’t there.
‘Let’s embrace different,’ Jenna begged. ‘Let’s talk about differences & be the change we want to see in this world.’
But the post got some very mixed reactions.
Several mums came forward to thank Jenna. ‘Totally agree,’ said one. ‘One of my kids was staring at a fellow who had lots of tattoos one day. I just said I’m pretty sure he is admiring your artwork. Being curious is awesome not rude.’
‘Thank you so much for the advice,’ another person echoed. ‘So many times I did not dare to behave in a friendly way with somebody having a difference by fearing it would be interpreted as being rude or showing pity. I hope your words will give more confidence that some of our conventions about being rude are simply plain wrong.’
‘I love it when children & adults come & ask questions,’ another mum agreed. ‘It’s the only way they learn to understand different needs & acceptance.’ However, she admitted that she ‘struggled’ with people simply staring at her disabled son because ‘it feels like they are judging’.
While many disabled commentators liked the idea of opening up a conversation between disabled and able-bodied people, not many thought that children should be encouraged to stare.
One woman replied that she ‘hates’ staring. ‘When I’m wearing my leg splints with a dress or something that makes them visible and people gawp I want to punch them in the face,’ she confessed.
‘Feel free to ask why I wear them but don’t stare like I just landed from Mars.’
‘Well, I prefer they don’t stare but act normal,’ said another. ‘It’s OK to look at someone and ask questions but staring makes people uncomfortable. I’m disabled myself and hate being stared at.
‘I happily answer any questions but I prefer people look at me like any other person. I teach my children to not stare but treat everyone the same. So, they don’t need to look away, but really should not stare.’